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Report: social sciences are ‘secret sauce’ essential for UK innovation

By Simon Linacre January 18, 2024

Thursday 18 January 2024London, UK

Social sciences are the key ingredients to ensure research and innovation in the UK are fully optimized – that is the finding of a new report by the Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS), which has been co-authored by Digital Science using data from Dimensions

The report – titled ‘Reimagining the Recipe for Research & Innovation: The Secret Sauce of Social Science’ and sponsored by leading academic publisher Sage – was commissioned to provide guidance to policymakers, universities and research managers in understanding the value add social sciences can bring to STEM research areas.

The report is being launched at an event in London today where the vital yet often poorly understood contributions of the social sciences to the UK’s research and innovation system will be discussed.

The secret sauce itself comes in the shape of four key ingredients:

  1. Social sciences enable whole-systems thinking 
  2. Social sciences are critical for good policy development
  3. Social sciences underpin smart and responsible innovation
  4. Social sciences are essential to international collaboration and tackling shared global challenges.

Key to the development of the report was the use of Dimensions, the world’s largest collection of linked research data. To understand the breadth and depth of collaborative research in the UK, the report’s authors employed ‘out-of-the-box’ elements of Digital Science’s Dimensions’ database, specifically: Landmark research analysis, focusing on citations of cross-disciplinary research involving social science and STEM; cluster analysis, based on existing published work in relevant areas; and research trajectory analysis for STEM, social sciences and cross-disciplinary research from both.

The aim of the report is not only to highlight the crucial role and value that the social sciences offer to research and innovation in the UK, but to provide evidence to decision makers to encourage policy initiatives that better facilitate research and partnerships that cross STEM and social science disciplinary boundaries. For example, Dimensions data shows that social science research makes a significant contribution towards exploring the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), surpassing STEM inputs across several individual SDGs (see chart below).

Commenting on the release, co-author and Digital Science VP Research Evaluation and Global Challenges Dr Juergen Wastl said: “The report is a mixture of data-driven work and analysis, and the examples shared in the report showcase the essential role social sciences play in areas often regarded as purely STEM-focused, as well as the amplifying effect collaborative work can have across STEM and social science fields. 

“Research that involves partnerships across these areas from the start can have a stronger impact and be more useful to policymakers.”

The report’s co-authors are Kathryn Weber-Boer, Digital Science’s Technical Product Specialist, Dimensions & Altmetric; Prof James Wilsdon FAcSS, Professor of Research Policy at University College London (UCL) and Executive Director of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI); and Dr Ed Bridges, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the Academy of Social Sciences.

See the full report at the Academy of Social Sciences website.

The report is also available from Sage Publishing:

About Digital Science

Digital Science is an AI-focused technology company providing innovative solutions to complex challenges faced by researchers, universities, funders, industry and publishers. We work in partnership to advance global research for the benefit of society. Through our brands – Altmetric, Dimensions, Figshare, ReadCube, Symplectic, IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, Overleaf, Writefull, OntoChem, Scismic and metaphacts – we believe when we solve problems together, we drive progress for all. Visit and follow @digitalsci on X or on LinkedIn.

About the Academy of Social Sciences

The Academy of Social Sciences is the UK’s national academy for academics, practitioners and learned societies in the social sciences. We promote social sciences in the UK for public benefit. We showcase, champion and advocate for the social sciences, raising awareness – in policy, business and with the public – of their immense value in understanding our contemporary human world, and helping to secure their flourishing future. Visit and follow @AcadSocSciences on X or on LinkedIn.

Media contacts

Simon Linacre, Head of Content, Brand & Press, Digital Science: Mobile +44 7484 381477,

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Amy Williams, Senior Communications Manager, Academy of Social Sciences:

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